Inviting Gen Z to SERVE

By Amanda Roozeboom, SERVE Director

Many believe that short-term missions trips cause more harm than good to the people and communities where they occur. All too often, this is true, but better models exist. ThereforeGo Ministries is a short-term missions organization rooted in long-term partnerships. We believe short-term missions trips remain an important way to foster young people into belonging, believing, and being welcomed into missions.

We’ve created a unique short-term mission model, called SERVE. This one-week domestic mission trip for teens in the U.S. or Canada introduces students in grades 7-12 to spreading the gospel through missional living and confronting justice issues. Unlike other short-term mission trips for teens, all ThereforeGo SERVE sites are hosted by a local church.

We believe short-term missions works best when it happens through the local church. We want to empower local churches to live missionally to reflect Christ’s love. This helps show young adults how a church should and can be alive and living outside its walls. Finally, this philosophy ensures that when groups leave, the people being served are not left behind; the local church remains to continue the relationships.

I recently spoke with Beth Seversen, author of Not Done Yet, and discussed what qualities local churches’ have that have teens and emerging adults as a significant part of the congregation. Her research shows that members of Gen Z want to be invited to serve – in meaningful ways – and contribute to the life of the church without the typical strings attached. 

Faith communities that allow teens and emerging adults to belong before they believe and contribute before they commit, see this demographic stay and embrace the Christian faith. In a time when so many churches lament the departure of Gen Z-ers and Millennials, this is no small accomplishment.

Something similar happens when a participant attends a SERVE trip. The students are not second-tier volunteers. Each day, they contribute in meaningful ways. They are seen as people who belong and have a significant role within this temporary community. Yes, the adults drive the vans, facilitate evening small group discussions, and ensure safety on all worksites.

However, the students are in charge of completing the tasks at the worksites and building relationships with those receiving assistance. Through active engagement and learning the stories of others, the root causes of inequality become visible, and participants grow in their biblical justice conduct and consciousness. As participants discover a broader answer to, ‘What does your/the church do?’ we pray they can connect the dots and respectfully engage with their local church leadership to serve at home the rest of the year.

SERVE is a unique blend of community outreach and discipleship, with spiritual transformation as the goal at every level. With relationships at the heart of everything we do, we have seen this brief experience become a significant part of the lives of all who participate. Most importantly, the SERVE model provides spaces for Gen Z to belong and come to believe in their own time and place. Because SERVE is connected to the local church, when critical faith questions or doubts are expressed, Christian mentors are available to point them to Jesus each step of the way.

Teens are searching for security, significance, and strength. Throughout the SERVE week, teen participants ask themselves: am I okay outside my comfort zone, do I make a difference, can I make it through challenging experiences?

Members of Gen Z are searching for open doors and safe spaces to answer these questions. The local church has the extraordinary opportunity to welcome and walk alongside them as they make their way towards a faith commitment through acts of service and a sense of belonging. Jean Vanier, Founder of L’Arche Communities, believes,

“To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”

Too often, people of faith are quick to exclude others. Gen Z is waiting for an invitation. Welcoming them in and giving them meaningful work to do can be risky. However, missions have always been a little dangerous. Fully embrace the risk. The relationships formed and the transformation experienced are worth it.

Originally published by EMQ a Missio Nexus publication in 2022.

Hope & Collaboration

By Rick Zomer, Executive Director of ThereforeGo Ministries

Earlier this month, I was a part of a group of 35 individuals invited by the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) to come to Pasadena, CA to discuss findings from their most recent research initiative. Their project is focused on discipleship initiatives with young adults, and FYI’s goal for the event was to share initial findings with church, denominational, non-profit, and young adults from different contexts. I was honored to be included in this event as it clearly aligns with ThereforeGo’s mission statement to help “churches challenge youth and emerging adults to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and transform this world for him.” 

I’ve been in my role with ThereforeGo for 5+ years and in that time, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with hundreds of church leaders across the United States and Canada. While each interaction is unique, I can say without hesitation that there are two shared themes that have emerged from these conversations. The first is that many churches are struggling to maintain and/or build connections with emerging adults in their congregational contexts and the second is that many churches feel alone or isolated in this process. 

While I believe that FYI’s research is important, upon reflection I would say hearing their findings wasn’t my biggest takeaway from the event in Pasadena. My learning can best be summed up by two words: “hope” and “collaboration.” By showing up, the leaders who gathered in Pasadena demonstrated hope that the church can be a place where emerging adults and their gifts are welcomed. By gathering with others, they demonstrated that learning happens best through collaboration as it gives the opportunity to hear and learn from others. 

I encourage you to spend a few moments reviewing our website for ways your congregation might collaborate with ThereforeGo and other churches in our shared ministry to youth and emerging adults. We’d be happy to connect to answer questions or talk about next steps.

Intergenerational Ingenuity

By Will Southard, a pastor in Lynden, Washington

Even before COVID, Gen Z was the loneliest generation on record. But now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the need for connection and belonging is greater than ever. This is especially true for the emerging adults in our churches. We have a tremendous opportunity before us, to speak to that need. In Christ, we belong; we are fully known and fully loved. And we experience that belonging that we have in him as we gather with his people.

One of the ways that my church, Third CRC Lynden, has been seeking to further embrace our emerging adults is through a renewed focus on intergenerational gatherings. We’ve found that, especially after COVID, that’s what our church craves. We’re hungering to be in community together, so we’ve made space for that to happen through regular events, called “Family Fun Nights,” that the entire church is invited to. We’ve had pumpkin carving contests, trivia nights, and talent shows. At each of these events, we’ve experienced the beauty of fellowship.

Our emerging adults in particular have expressed how these events have helped integrate them into the life of the church and helped them get to know members of their faith family better. That has encouraged us as we continue moving forward with our long-term goal: cultivating deeper, more intentional relationships between generations. We’re seeking to do that in two new ways this year – through Faith Forward, and through Generation Spark.

Faith Forward was an idea that our Family Ministry Team developed while participating in a mentorship network last year, led by ThereforeGo Ministries and Faith Formation Ministries. We surveyed our church to see what some of our common interests are and created small groups to help gather them around those interests. We started with four – reading, cooking and baking, worship, and games – and have invited anyone who is interested, regardless of their age, to come and participate. Our hope is that, as we gather in these smaller groups, relationships will continue to develop and deepen in an organic way.

Faith Forward is helping us build a bridge to Generation Spark which is a collaboration between the CRC and RCA that is focused on cultivating intergenerational mentoring in churches. When we begin Generation Spark later this year, our emerging adults will have the opportunity to meet regularly with members of our faith family they’ve already gotten to know through Faith Forward or other intergenerational gatherings. They’ll spend time working on spiritual formation and continue to share and experience life together.

Ultimately these are the kinds of relationships that we want to see formed in our church. We want our emerging adults to experience what it’s like to be named and known, loved, and embraced. We want them to experience what it’s like to belong, as members of our faith family, learning and growing together. In many ways, we’re already doing that. We want to recognize that and encourage people to lean into what they’re already doing and invest in the next generation.

Stepping into intergenerational ministry can be uncomfortable – even scary. But, as my church has experienced, the best way to do it is by simply trying something. Create an opportunity for all ages to gather around something they enjoy. It will look different based on your context, and that’s the point! The more you know your people, the more you’ll know what will bring them together. Find that thing, and use it as your starting point. The desire for belonging is there. So try something together and, as you do that, you’ll begin building a foundation for lasting, intergenerational relationships to form.


Will is the Pastor of Family and Youth at Third Christian Reformed Church in Lynden, WA. He first got connected with ThereforeGo Ministries through their mentorship network, which he and a team from Third participated in last year and would highly recommend (especially if you can get Rick Zomer to be your coach).

Dynamic Denver Discipleship

Interview with Myriam, an emerging adult in Denver, Colorado

Nestled in a tree-lined neighborhood in Denver lies First CRC of Denver. First CRC is one of many churches in North America that is pioneering new programs to involve emerging adults in their congregation. What is First’s solution? A program called “Enfold” that repurposes their unused parsonage into a discipleship house for the next generation of congregants and leaders. 

According to First CRC’s website, “The Enfold program is a year-long residency program for recent college graduates and emerging adults who seek to serve God in their careers and to find their place in his family, the church.” 

Each year, three to five residents are selected to live together rent-free in church-provided housing. Enfold’s vision and mission for its residents is threefold: that they “…engage the community as Christ’s representatives… discover their place in God’s family through participation in the church… and be discipled by the pastors through vocational mentoring.”

Myriam, a nurse and recent graduate of Dordt University, was eager to talk about her journey to Enfold and Colorado. 

“During the spring of my senior year, I went on a service trip to Colorado. I mentioned to the person we were volunteering with that I was looking at jobs in the Denver area, and she told me about the Enfold program that First CRC was starting,” she said. “I wanted to work in the US for a year or so while I worked on transferring my nursing license home to Canada.” 

“When I first heard about the opportunity, I thought it would be a great way to make connections in Denver. It was nice not to have to choose a church to attend. I was able to get involved with the church faster than I would have otherwise.” 

As she settled into her new life, Myriam has had to figure out what it means to be an adult seeking out a relationship with the Lord separately from required chapel or religion classes at school. 

“It was suddenly on me to make sure I was growing my faith and staying close to God,” she said. “I have been meeting with someone from the church who is also a nurse. She has helped me understand how I can express my faith at work.” 

As opportunities similar to Enfold begin to emerge, other churches may take inspiration from programs that intentionally build relationships and community around their emerging adults. 

One thing that Myriam thinks churches could do better to engage her generation is inviting them into leadership. 

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked to lead a program. I know there is a need, and most young adults would be more than willing to help, but they aren’t inclined to do so if they aren’t asked.”

Myriam’s thoughts and experiences are a compelling call to action for present church leaders. There is a younger generation standing by, ready to lead, if only someone would ask.  


Myriam is an ICU nurse originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, skiing, and spending time with friends.